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Note: This contains 3 parts but I think they are about 3 aspects of the same construct, hence I'm asking all 3 here instead of splitting into 3 questions.

I guess this construct is quite common in news, for example in this NHK News Web article

インチョンアジア大会、サッカー男子の日本は、28日の準々決勝の韓国戦を前に、最後の調整を行いました。

  1. Here, 準々決勝の韓国戦 is clearly not an object to any verb coming after it that is present in the sentence. Judging from the context, it seems like を前に functions as "before", i.e. "the Japanese men's soccer team made some final adjustments before their quarterfinal match with Korea".

    Additionally, from this post on Japan Reference forum and examples on ALC, I gather that を前に can mean "before" both spatially and temporally. Is this correct?

  2. If を前に does mean "before", then how does it differ from の前に? Is it a matter of one being more common in written form, or is there any difference in nuance?

  3. Now, according to the Japan Reference forum post and ALC examples linked above, を前に used in those ways is the same as を前にして, which makes sense - otherwise that を would be without a corresponding verb.

    That brings me to the question, "How does one break down this を前にする" structure? What I know is that the construct 「AをBにする」 has a few common usages (reference: 大辞林 definition ❷ of する):

    • to raise/appoint A (where A = person) as B or to B (where B = position or profession)
    • to treat/consider/think of A as B
    • to change A into B
    • to use A as B

    In any case, they give me a sense of being volitional (someone is actively doing something). Whereas を前にする - and equivalently を前にして - feels like it just is that way, without any volition involved.

    Does it even make sense to break を前に(して) down this way? Or is it a somewhat fixed phrase that can't be broken down?

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"Additionally, from this post on Japan Reference forum and examples on ALC, I gather that を前に can mean "before" both spatially and temporally. Is this correct?"

Yes, it is correct. In your example sentence, however, it is strictly temporal.

"If を前に does mean "before", then how does it differ from の前に? Is it a matter of one being more common in written form, or is there any difference in nuance?"

There is a slight difference in nuance that has nothing to do with written or spoken language.

「を前に」 tends to express one's somewhat stronger sense of purpose towards and/or a higher degree of importance of the two events, in particular, the upcoming one.

「の前に」 would simply express the temporal order of events without any particular emphasis implied. For that reason, it can sound more informal than 「を前に」.

"Does it even make sense to break を前に(して) down this way? Or is it a somewhat fixed phrase that can't be broken down? "

It would make practically no sense to break it down. Both 「~~を前にする」 and 「AをBにする」 are set phrases, but there is a difference in meaning between the two する's.

The 「する」 in 「~~を前にする」 is not a verb of real action since it only means "to be". It cannot be replaced by another verb.

The 「する」 in 「AをBにする」 represents a real human action or effort. In your word, it is "volition". It could be replaced by other verbs or verb phrases depending on the meaning even though 「AをBにする」 is a set phrase. Those other verbs include [変]{か}える、[変更]{へんこう}する、[使]{つか}う、[使用]{しよう}する、[任命]{にんめい}する、[育]{そだ}てあげる、etc.

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